"The son of Manuel and Adrienne Gaines, Gaines was born on the River Lake Plantation near Oscar, Louisiana, where his parents worked as sharecroppers and he himself labored from the age of nine. While their parents worked in the fields, Ernest and his twelve younger siblings were raised by their aunt, Augusteen Jefferson, a severely handicapped woman who provided the model for the many strong, self-sacrificing, religious, older women who appear in Gaines's writings. His childhood experiences of field work, fishing in the swamps, and overhearing his aunt's conversations with her friends provided the basis for many of Gaines later works.
After Gaines's parents separated in 1941, he lost touch with his father, who served in World War II and later relocated to New Orleans. Gaines's mother remarried and moved to Vallejo, California, with her new husband, and Gaines joined them in there in 1948. He began attending high school for the first time, developed a passion for reading, and then enrolled at Vallejo Junior College before enlisting in the U.S. Army. Gaines served during the Korean War and when his tour of duty ended in 1955, he enrolled at San Francisco State College. He had started writing in the meantime and in 1956 he published his first short story in the magazine Transfer.
After receiving a bachelor's degree on 1957, Gaines received a Wallace Stegner fellowship and entered the graduate program in creative writing at Stanford University the following year. He won the Joseph Henry Jackson award for one of his short stories in 1959 and subsequently withdrew from Stanford to devote himself to writing full time. Gaines's first novel, Catherine Carmier, was published in 1964, but he did not gain widespread critical recognition until the publication of his third novel, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, seven years later.
He became a professor of English at the University of Southern Louisiana in 1983. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and A Gathering of Old Men each received the California Book Award from the Commonwealth Club of California, and in 1987 Gaines won an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A Lesson before Dying received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. In 2000 Gaines was awarded the National Humanities Medal by the National Endowment for the Humanities and in 2004 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature."
--"Ernest J. Gaines." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 300. Detroit: Gale, 2011. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Mar. 2012. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CH1110130000&v=2.1&u=avl_hunts&it=r&p=LitRG&sw=w